Actor with line Rick Rick help me / FRI 10-31-14 / Topping for skewered meat / Anthrax cousin / Inuit's transport / Adam's apple coverer / Like words hoagie kitty-corner /
Friday, October 31, 2014
Constructor: Mary Lou Guizzo and Jeff Chen
Relative difficulty: Medium
THEME: none except a vaguely spooky Halloweenish vibe created by the two "Cask of Amontillado"-related answers near the grid center... —
Word of the Day: AWEIGH (26A: Barely clear, in a way) —
Grid itself is solid enough. I liked NO-BRAINER, and the clue on METALLICA (44A: Anthrax cousin). But the solving experience was less than enjoyable, for a host of reasons. First there's the clunk. Not the KLINK. The clunk. That's the sound of the off-brand word COGNOSCENTE. It's a word. But you never hear it used in the singular. Like, ever. I guarantee you a majority of solvers had no (or little) idea what letter to put at the end there, or had an idea and it was wrong. I considered "O." Graffito, graffiti … it seemed logical. Anyway, COGNOSCENTI is the word everyone uses. Plural. And then there's the massively Variant SATE SAUCE. In case you haven't put it together yet, that's "satay sauce." The way I know it's "satay" is a. every crossword version of the word ever (incl. four times in the NYT since I started this blog, vs. zero times for SATE), and b. this product:
Then there's the wild unevenness of the puzzle, difficulty-wise. I had that NW corner done in about 30 seconds (ROCK BANDS was my first answer). And while the middle took me a while, the lower corners were easy enough that I could just jump in there, plant a few gimmes (TOONS and KERI in the SE, LES and NOBIS in the SW), and polish them off without too much trouble. But then there was the NE, where I had RAW TALENT and TSA and then nothing. It's possible that knowing that AWEIGH fit its clue would've helped, but I sure as hell didn't know that's what AWEIGH meant, so I just stared at AWE--- wondering WTF. [Book after Hosea]? Blank. Even with terminal "L," blank. That one-off Oscar nominee guy … I had the "T" and could think only of TEVYE (is that right?). I think that's the character name. No hope on Sea-TAC without any crosses. Long Downs and JACK just wouldn't come without sufficient help from crosses. So I sat awhile, until I just guessed that SEPIA was an "effect" of Photoshop and JOEL was maybe a bible book. And that was that. AWEIGH. Ugh. Admittedly, my problems with that corner might be idiosyncratic. It was the difficulty *imbalance* that was bothering me, more than the difficulty itself. Also, TOPOL, yuck. Also, problems up there were related to the whole last letter in COGNOSCENT- problem (above).
BURIED ALIVE and HORROR STORY. But here's the thing. Two things. A. if you want to go horror, go one or three or none. This 2/3 bit is just awkward. But more importantly B. don't force a common clue term on disparate answers unless the answers can handle them. Now, there are HORROR STORYs out there that feature people being BURIED ALIVE. I'm sure of it. It's just that "The Cask of Amontillado" isn't one of them. Being immured, walled up, is not (not) (not not) the same as being BURIED ALIVE, however underground the walled-up chamber might be. Lots of sites on the Internet will use the phrase BURIED ALIVE to talk about what happens to Fortunato, but, like many if not most things on the Internet: wrong. Wikipedia? Wrong. I kept trying to make WALLED UP fit. Look, I'm sure the clue is defensible, but immurement and being BURIED ALIVE seem to me very, very different things. It's the difference between (quick) suffocation and (somewhat less quick) starvation/dehydration. Both gruesome, yes, but different. Fundamentally different. My friend Amy seems to think you *could* suffocate in a walled-up chamber if the mortar seal were tight enough. Admittedly, murdering folks is somewhat out of my purview. Still, I'm standing by my primary contention, which is that the dude gets walled up, not "buried." Needless to say, the middle was difficult for me not because I hadn't read "Cask," but because I had.
Off to (re-)read Poe. Tis the season.